Tuesday, April 18, 2006

University Entry Criteria: Co-Curricular Activities

It has been highlighted in the press for quite a few weeks now. The Ministry of Higher Education, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed has further confirmed and clarified that co-curricular activities will make up 10% of entry requirements into public universities from this year. You can read reports from the various news sources here, here, here and here.

I'm in full agreement that co-curricular activities (CCA) should be part of the evaluation process although I must admit that I would be clueless as to whether a 10% contribution is the right percentage - should it be 5% or 15%? From an initial gut feel, a 10% contribution sounds like a fair percentage to start with. After all, the Ministry should be given a bit of leeway to fine-tune the entry process over the next few years.

The little concern I have with regards to this new criteria is the fact that it applies directly to those STPM and matriculation students seeking entry into our public universities in the current year. I thought its a bit unfair for the entry requirements to be decided at this stage when the students were not given an opportunity to "make good" in their secondary schools. It's kinda like moving the goalposts in the last minute after one has managed to work his way past all the defenders. It would have been better if the policy is implemented for students enrolling into Form 6 or pre-university courses in the current year.

In addition, co-curricular activities, being a subjective matter, will be extremely difficult to achieve standardisation in terms of participation across schools throughout the country. And when subjectivity comes into play, it leaves plenty of room for manoeuvre - whether legally or otherwise.

The Minister of Higher Education has stated that "[f]or those who had submitted their application on-line, the information would be berified with the respective schools to ensure it is accurate." The Ministry will be receiving thousands and thousands of applications each year, how in the world are they going to be able to verify all these information accurately is beyond me.

Hence, it is hoped that the new system will not be abused by students and teachers alike. You can surely imagine teachers and students attempting to abuse the system through favouritism and worse, corruption.

On the balance of it, as long as the guidelines are put in place properly and the system is not abused too badly, I suppose it'll be good for our students. It's about time for students to be evaluated not just on academics (although academic achievement is still the absolutely biggest component), but also activities which will help build an well-round individual.


Anonymous said...

CCA or no CCA, it is still lousy. Unlike the UK, I have never heard of local universities conducting interviews to select students.

mh said...

Tony, I think you should edit the percentage in your 1st para - it now reads "100%" :-)

Dear Anon, I was interviewed in 1985 for entrance to UUM, but I'm not sure if they maintained this practise.

Anonymous said...

I know for one that UTM interviews students for its architecture course. However, it should be applied to all, be it engineering, business, more so medicine, pharmacy and those hot courses.

Rajan R said...

Actually, as the batch that become the first 'victims', we were duly informed in Lower Six of this new requirement. However good the idea is, in practice, it is rather stupid.

Admissions would be based on grades issued by school on extra-curricular activities - a rather stupid idea for several reasons. For one, even if grading is the right way to go, grades do not reflect the actual involvement in societies. A President of So-So Club that has 5 meetings a year may have the same grade as a President of Overachievers Club which have 5 meetings a month.

Grading also takes into account - a little to much, I might say - involvement in state, national and international competitions. It would be fine and all if the grading reflected the amount of effort placed into such competitions (e.g. amount of hours spent practising).

In addition to that, getting A's and B's under this grading system would be achievable for national athletes and academics, however if your forte is somewhere else - like piano, for example, it's pretty hard to show your involvement and excellence in your CCA grades - participating in competitions both national and international only count if you're representing some entity - school, district, state, and nation.

In addition to that, CCA grades do not reflect actual involvement in activities outside school. Few non-school activities count - that is, representing districts, states and the nation in competitions. I personally find CCA activities, with few exceptions, mediocre and dull. Plus, if the interests doesn't match what the school offers, it's harder still (for example, I'm really into rugby, but my school does not have a rugby club).

Furthermore, CCA grades only reflect the best three societies in three categories - Sport, Societies and Uniform Units. If you're a member of three societies have have an A in all three, you can only use one in university applications. I did not have a sports society and a uniform society - it did not matter how involved I am in the societies I am in, they only count one.

Even worse for students who did not go to National Service, National Service is considered a CCA - though it is not voluntary. I wouldn't mind roughing it out for three months, but I did not have much of a chance. However, why NS and not other activities? I know people who participate in OBS (Out Bound School) - far more rigorous than NS itself - why can't they include that in their university applications?

Lastly, the process is a tad unfair for Form Sixers - matriculation students have more options and some of their compulsory activities is considered towards their CCA criteria. It's bad enough they have an unfair advantage in academics vs. Form Sixers, now they're given, under the strict constraints of what constitutes CCA activities, the opportunity to put themselves even further ahead of Form Sixers.

Malaysian university admissions should immitate American admissions process - where student can write down all their CCA involvement, and not just the top in three categories and not just in schools. It does not matter for admissions into local universities that you have a string of successful piano recitals but it does to Harvard, Yale, etc. - something is wrong with this picture.

Rajan R said...

To the first anonymous, selected universities interview candidates for selected courses. I do think that interviews - either like Oxbridge or by alumni like the Ivy League - should become part and parcel of admissions. Of course, I'm probably saying that because I would benefit from that...

Anonymous said...

This is unfair criteria because co-curricular activities can be fraud.

lee wee tak said...

Typical Malaysian style

1) think of a policy/rule that sounds good initially but may not be sound when scrutinised further

2) implement it at the last minute

3) change it in a year or two.

These extra-currcular activities has been around for so long. Why only now that it counts? For main-main only, izzit?

What about those students in previous years that have contributed so much outside classrooms and have less time to study?

Anyway, I am in favour. If our local unis have only bookworms, then you may have graduates will can study but lack the experience in planning, co-ordinating and executing tasks. (a strange parallel emerge when you apply this description to our local governments and beyond)

To verify thousands of applications with different schools? That's not practical, given the efficiency level of the education ministry staff, the potential for abuse, the short time frame available.....

Talk is easy but the proof in the pudding is in the eating.....

YT Kuah said...

Hi Tony,

The 100% has me thrown off-track. Maybe you would like to edit that?


Andrew said...

I think that no matter how ingenious the ideas that come out from our brilliant Education Ministry, they ALWAYS remember to open it to abuse and subjectivity.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this is just another sandiwara to entertain the people or just hangat-hangat tahi ayam?

Or another mind game initiated by those in power? After all they have declared openly the continuation of NEP. This kind of criteria using CCA as entry requirement can be fake! So it won't surprise me that in the future, more and more non-bumi are going to be denied entry into local Uni.

So my advise to students, learn more than what your teachers teach you. Learn them as a resource, not for just exams. Malaysian exams are pretty easy, due to normalization of results. You faham-faham laa~ These are crucial when you decide to study in foreign Uni later =D

BluishBlueBlack said...

Universities should admit students solely on academic criteria. It really isn't a question of whether or not extra-curricular activities are important, they always are!
Students aren't joining these activities for a myriad of other reasons, many of which aren't even related to whether, or not, joining will gain them acceptance to universities.
If extra-curricular activities are encouraged based on interest, as opposed to quota, I am sure most students would love the idea of being a part of something else other than their classrooms.
Inasmuch as forcing students to garner extra-curricular points, this will only enforce the existing kiasu belief that an education is about getting a certificate, period. Extra-curricular activities, then, will only turn into a mere pre-requisite, nothing else.
Take a hard look at the structure of student societies, the dying down of these activities have been caused by larger issues like curbing of free speech, strict regulatory practices concerning regitration, and the inavailability of both the 'hardware' and 'software' in sustaining the interest of these societies.
The value of doing well in extra-curricular activities, however, shouldn't be depreciated. Instead, offer scholarships to students who do well in sports or community development.

Please understand said...

All of you are wrong.

Umno prefer Malaysia less Chinese and less Indians.

They even plan to kill Chinese and Indians when they lost power.

Please understand this fact.

So be careful.

Anonymous said...

How can it be a fact when you are speaking based on what you believe in?

Anonymous said...

Hey Please understand,

This is very sensitive, you may get arrested under ISA.

Anonymous said...

Dear authors, for your safety I think you should censor part of the sentence by "please understand". You are being watched....

junhoe said...

I'm currently towards the end of my 2nd year in UKM now, and I'd like to know whether anyone remembers that this was actually the Ministry's policy a couple of years ago? At that time I think due to heated public debate and disatisfaction, the policy was changed so that uni admission will be 100% based on academic, with co-curricular activites only as the tie-breaker in certain events. An infamous quote by a disgruntled parent at that time comes to mind,"Why should my son who wants to be a doctor has to kick a ball in the field? Isn't it better he use the time to study?"

So therefore, the 'new'policy of uni admission is in fact nothing new, but a reversal of the change a few years ago. Actually I'm all for it, for a student's achivement should not solely be based on academics. Though of course much fine-tuning is needed to prevent the system from abuse (in my school everyone just scribble some stuff on their school testimonial and ask the teachers to sign, and most of them well, just obliged out of pity).

Anonymous said...

To junhoe,

You are right a couple of years ago it's already there. It's was TDM who over right it. Very seldom you find students (although there are exception) good at both.

As you have mention abusing the co-curricular activities is very easy and hence what is the point of using it as a criteria. The only thing I can think of is to help the matriculation as they are fully residencial. Remember it was TDM who open up the 10% quota.